“Before, I knew what polymers were, I have always been interested in cars. My ultimate goal as a child was to design a car that was hydro-powered. Cars are one of my biggest passions, and when I found out that majority of a car was made from polymers, it made me want to obtain a degree in the field,” says Taneisha Deans, Case Western Reserve alum and one of the first students to participate in the university’s Polymer Envoys Program.
It is great being able to introduce myself as Dr. Deans.
The Envoys Program was designed by faculty of the Case Western Reserve Macromolecular Science & Engineering and Physics departments to put a STEM career within reach for high school students in the Cleveland area. As of today, there are 45 program graduates, 100 percent of the program’s graduates have matriculated to college, 88 percent of them chose to study in the STEM field, and a total of 69 students have enrolled in the program since 2006. Now, the program will begin to expand to other engineering and STEM disciplines like, materials science, chemical engineering, pediatrics at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, biomedical engineering, and chemistry.
In 2006, Deans decided to apply to the program because she was interested in math and science and wanted to learn more about the world-renowned research taking place at Case Western Reserve. “Twice a week, I was able to come to the macro department and work with my graduate mentor on his research project. He would help me with my homework, presentations and prepare me for speaking engagements. Meanwhile, the program was helping the Envoy students with writing, presentation skills, hired tutors for us, and the list goes on.”
Envoys students work with university faculty and graduate students, as well as top industry experts, for three years and three summer sessions of intensive research, mentorship and STEM coursework to prepare them for college and successful careers. Each envoy is paired with a layered research team advised by a faculty member and supervised by a graduate student mentor. Over the course of the program, envoys receive 1,400 hours of individualized instruction, tutoring, mentoring and lab work beyond their normal high school curriculum.
During the school year, envoys spend five hours per week on Case Western Reserve’s campus building their laboratory experience, developing their leadership skills and preparing for their careers through activities like lab research under the guidance of graduate student mentors, weekend SAT/ACT prep sessions, individualized tutoring, and college prep and professional development classes for the students and their families on topics including time management, the college application process, financial aid and presentation skills.
During summer sessions, envoys get a deep dive into a progressive STEM curriculum that builds on the material from the previous year, including classroom learning in STEM fundamentals like chemistry, dimensional analysis, engineering design, math, physics and polymer science, training in laboratory protocols, equipment and safety, access to Case Western Reserve’s innovation hub, Sears think[box], and field trips to STEM sites.
According to Deans, “My favorite thing about the program was working with my graduate mentor [David Schiraldi, the Peter A. Asseff Professor and chair of the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering]] and meeting/working with my advisor. My graduate mentor had taught me many things and shaped me into a hard worker. Plus, how he trained me was a blueprint that I used to train my students when I became a graduate mentor. Working for Dr. Schiraldi was such an honor for me and the respect I have for him is tremendous. He was so patient with me and he taught me skills that I still use today in my career. Dr. Schiraldi helped me to grow as a person and as a professional.”
Pamela Bligh-Glover, executive director of the program says, “I think our statistics show that we have proven that the program works at changing the lives and careers of young people—and it will continue to work in a number of different STEM settings, expanding opportunities for more students to join the program.”
Following her graduation from the Envoys program, Deans completed her bachelor’s in polymer science at Case Western Reserve in 2012 and received her PhD in 2017. “At 16 and 17, Dr. Schiraldi used to tell me that I could become Dr. Deans if I worked and study hard. Honestly, I thought he was delusional and I did not believe that was a realistic goal. Doctors were not something I was exposed to growing up in my neighborhood. Plus, doctors did not look like me. This was the perception that I had growing up in my neighborhood. As time went on, I started to ask myself, ‘why couldn’t I become a doctor, why not be a part of the change, etc.’”
Deans took this sentiment to heart and continued to work hard, earning two degrees at Case Western Reserve and now works for DSM Engineering Plastics as a Research & Technology engineer. Deans says, “I do not regret it at all. It is great being able to introduce myself as Dr. Deans.”